Fulham midfielder Jimmy Bullard showed the west London club what they would be missing if he is allowed to leave by scoring the opening goal in his side's 3-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday. Bullard is trying to negotiate an extension to his current contract, which expires at the end of next season. But talks have reached a stalemate and Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson hinted on Friday that could lead to the player being sold before he loses value. But judging Bullard's inspirational performance at Craven Cottage, it would be a foolhardy move to let him leave.
Bullard opened the scoring just before half-time and goals after the break from Danny Murphy, who slotted home a penalty, and American midfielder Clint Dempsey secured a sixth home win of the season to move Fulham up to eighth in the Premier League. Middlesbrough have gone six matches without a win and the spectre of a relegation battle is hanging over Gareth Southgate's team.
It was the visitors who had the first effort on goal when Tuncay Sanli tried his luck from 25 yards, but former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved well. Middlesbrough's Julio Arca almost gifted Fulham a freak lead when he cleared from Simon Davies and just wide of his own net. Andrew Johnson squandered a chance for Fulham on the half-hour when John Pantsil's ball put him in the clear but Ross Turnbull reacted fast enough to deny the striker with a fine save.
Arca was lucky not be red-carded for a dreadful over the top lunge on Johnson and Hodgson was involved in an angry exchange with Southgate. But Arca's challenge was forgotten in the 41st minute when Fulham got the breakthrough they deserved. Pantsil's cross eluded Johnson but not Zamora on the edge of the six-yard box. The Fulham substitute's shot on the turn was superbly saved by Turnbull but the fleet-footed Bullard fired the loose ball into the net.
Tuncay wasted a chance to equalise in the 50th minute when Aliadiere head the ball back to him inside the penalty area. The turning point came in the 54th minute when Fulham were awarded a penalty for handball against Tony McMahon. Referee Keith Stroud waved away Middlesbrough's protests and Murphy stepped up to score from the spot. Dempsey put the result beyond doubt five minutes later when he slotted past Turnbull after Johnson and Murphy combined to carve open the Middlesbrough defence.